John Gregg’s formal entry into the 2012 governor’s race Nov. 12 launches what we hope will be a significant contribution to the ongoing debate about how to restore prosperity to the state. The Democrat, a former speaker of the Indiana House, and his likely Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, are both obligated to spell out what they would do to energize the state’s sluggish economy.
The winner will certainly have his work cut out for him. Per-capita personal income in Indiana, which stood at 96 percent of the U.S. average in the mid 1970s, has eroded to hover near 85.5 percent. Wages and salaries, one of the best reflections of workers’ ability to add value to goods and services, has performed about the same.
These trends are not a winning scenario for a state aspiring to fund great universities, solid roads and bridges, and the best K-12 schools. Quality usually costs money, money that’s generated by a strong economy.
Gov. Mitch Daniels deserves a great deal of credit for throwing head-spinning energy at encouraging entrepreneurs to start companies and for existing companies to think entrepreneurially and expand. Daniels also charted a smart strategy during the recession and its aftermath of persuading companies to consolidate their operations in Indiana rather than losing locations to other states.
So far, though, the efforts of government haven’t been enough to reverse the relative slide in wages and incomes. Too few firms are using the playground Indiana has created.
Gregg and Pence could be forgiven for thinking to themselves that there’s only so much a politician can do to improve an economy. As business likes to remind itself, it’s the private sector that creates wealth and jobs, not government.
But government pulls significant levers of taxation and regulation.
Governors also set a tone. If the most powerful politician in the state projects a pro-business image and backs it up with action, as Daniels has done, it’s about all the office is capable of doing.
In that spirit, Gregg and Pence should bring serious policy proposals to voters, something that was lacking in the recent Indianapolis mayoral campaign.
Gregg talks about emphasizing manufacturing jobs, and he might be onto something if the work starts to return to American soil due to rising costs and unreliable supply chains overseas.
If so, Gregg should avoid pandering to workers who lost jobs to technology. He owes it to his blue-collar base to play it honest and encourage Hoosiers to focus on getting an education that would qualify them to operate the robots that shoved them aside. False hope would inhibit the state from moving more quickly to an information-based economy, where most of the well-paying jobs exist.
As for Pence, he should focus on the economy and jobs instead of his stock-in-trade social issues. He has downplayed those divisive issues since entering the race, perhaps a good sign that he’d make the state’s economy his primary focus if he becomes governor.
Whoever wins should make Hoosier jobs their top priority, but first there’s a campaign to run—one that we hope will produce bold proposals for voters to consider.•
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